Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
No spoilers. (Promise.)
I've read and reviewed one of Nnedi Okorafor's other books before: her short sci-fi novel Lagoon about mystical aliens touching down in Nigeria. I was enraptured by her storytelling, and when I found out she had other books--many of them bestsellers--I added all of them to my wishlist, and had the opportunity to purchase Who Fears Death thanks to a Barnes & Noble gift card I got for Christmas. I had high expectations for Who Fears Death because of everything I'd heard, both about it and about Okorafor herself.
And I was not disappointed.
It's rare--or at least, rare for me in my little corner of America--to find popular SFF books that have a post-apocalyptic or fantasy setting outside of the U.S., or even Europe. So the setting itself of a fantastical, post-apocalyptic Africa was intriguing to me. I wish Okorafor had gone into just what, exactly the apocalypse was that completely reshaped the world and set up whole new religions and ethnicities, or even just the history of the world in general. We're given the religious version that everyone is told growing up and that main character Onye has little respect for, but not a definitive This is what happened, and this is why the world works this way now. But that's probably just the history major in me.
The magic system used is very unique and interesting. It's a soft magic system, which is the kind that basically allows the author to make it up as they go along (kind of like Tolkien or Game of Thrones), compared to the hard magic system where the rules are explained and strictly adhered to (i.e. Avatar: the Last Airbender and Fullmetal Alchemist). But while Onye and the other sorcerers' powers are many and varied, there's no deux ex machina that goes on. She still has limitations, especially in the beginning when she has no control.
The story itself starts out pretty slow. Onye is obviously very special and eventually has to set out to topple the unjust system of oppression and war that her mother's people is subjected to. But she and her friends don't start their journey until halfway through the book. The first half is Onye coming to terms with who and what she is (for the most part, at least), worldbuilding, and describing the struggles and conflicts between Onye, her mother, and everyone around them. So even though the pacing of the overarching story is very slow, there's still a lot that goes on that kept me turning the pages.
Oh, and in case you didn't get the hint from the book description, this story is not something to flippantly give to children. More on this later.
There are a lot of characters here. While the entire story is told in first person point of view by Onye, she runs into a lot of characters. There's her beau, Mwita, another sorcerer who knows more about magic but isn't as powerful as she is and functions as team healer. She has three best girlfriends, her mentors, her mother, her stepfather, and of course, her rapist father. Who is a real piece of work. Just...wow.
All of these characters are deeply flawed. Onye has some severe anger issues that are a direct result of how horribly her society treats her and her mother, leading her to do several things that she almost immediately regrets. The friends she sets out on her journey with turn out to be less than ideal travel companions, given that half of them abandon the quest out of fear. (Though the one that sticks around, while not magical in any way, is a total badass.) Mwita himself has some inferiority complexes. I mentioned that he's not as powerful as Onye is, and while it's clear that these two characters deeply love and go to great lengths for each other, Mwita has some sexist views that come out every now and then. He believes that he should be the sorcerer while Onye hangs back as the healer. Needless to say, this is a bit of a conflict between the two of them.
In addition to expert storytelling, captivating worldbuilding, and engaging characters, Okorafor also weaves in several themes throughout this story. And when I say several, I mean all of them. I thought I was impressed by how many topics she was able to cover in Lagoon, but that's nothing compared to when she has an extra three hundred pages to play around with. Who Fears Death unflinchingly talks about rape, war, slavery, genital mutilation, misogyny, racism, religion and tradition used as tools of oppression, love, hope, death, and probably a dozen others that I missed in my first reading or just can't think of right now.
Bottom line, this is an amazing book. It is a bold, beautiful story that deserves to be on bookshelves everywhere.
DZA Marie's personal favorite romantic subplots in sci-fi and fantasy
Ah, early February. Living in Minnesota, I can see why Hallmark decided this was the prime time to start a romantic holiday: it's too cold outside to do anything other than snuggle with your significant other. (-50 degree windchill. Thanks, climate change.)
Now obviously, in the spirit of the holiday, the next couple of blog posts and this month's video will be relationship-oriented. However, I do not read romance novels. I read romance fanfiction, but in my movies and published novels I vastly prefer hard sci-fi and fantasy. Luckily (or unluckily, as this month's YouTube video will argue) you cannot open an SFF book or movie without there being at least a 95% chance of a romantic subplot popping up. And while most of them are very annoying and have no place in the story at all, some of them are downright adorable.
So, I have gathered a list of my personal favorite romantic subplots in the sci-fi, fantasy and superhero genres. They're not really in any particular order, and the biggest qualification is it has to make me go "Awwww" with a bare minimum of eye-rolling.
Nakia & T'Challa (Black Panther)
Most blockbuster movies with romantic subplots--especially superhero movies--tend to either ignore the woman's growth and character development, or make said growth and development all about the love and romance she bares for the hero.
This is not the case with Black Panther. Nakia is a fully fleshed-out badass who doesn't have so much of a narrative arc so much as the moral of, "Bitch, you should have listened to me from the start. Would've saved you a lot of trouble and Killmonger wouldn't have had a chance."
Also noteworthy is the fact that, at the time the movie starts, Nakia and T'Challa are exes. And while it's clear that T'Challa still has strong feelings for her, he does not whine and cry about it. They both act like adults, both respect each other, and they have a strong friendship that they then use to re-build their romance. (While they never go into it, I'm pretty sure the break-up came from clashing ideologies and world paths. Nakia wanted to go out and save the world, T'Challa wanted to hide behind his vibranium walls. That's not going to create a very stable relationship.)
Rapunzel & Eugene (Tangled)
Disney has several really good relationships, especially in recent years: Tiana and Prince Naveen, Kristophe and Anna, Mulan and Captain Shang...but my favorite is Rapunzel and Eugene (a.k.a. Flynn Rider). A lot of it has to do with Eugene's character development. Rapunzel manages to influence and change him into a better person, without going out of her way to "save" him. In fact, no romance starts until most of this change happens. At the same time, Eugene helps and encourages Rapunzel into taking charge of her own destiny.
Then there's the fact that Disney broke its own "married within three days of meeting each other" rule in order to clearly state that Eugene and Rapunzel didn't get married until years after the fact. Rushed marriages rarely work. Cinderella and Prince Charming probably got divorced three months after their wedding. But Rapunzel and Eugene? That's going to last forever.
Also, "You were my new dream." *cries*
Will Solace & Nico di Angelo (Percy Jackson series)
This relationship doesn't actually get started until the very, very end of The Blood of Olympus (book five in the Heroes of Olympus series), and we only see pieces of it in the first Trials of Apollo book. It's utterly adorable and one of the few romantic subplots that I really, really want to see more of.
This one gets points for being an LGBT relationship rather than the usual hetero stuff, without it being such a big freaking deal. We find out Nico is gay and had a crush on Percy in House of Hades, both of which he tried to ruthlessly squash down (the kid's from the 1930s, so it was definitely ones of those yikes moments for him). Blood of Olympus is him not only coming to terms with his sexuality, but also coming to terms with who he is as a person. You see, the son of Hades has had it in his head for a long time that nobody likes him, people are scared of him, everyone will be much happier if he just stays away, et cetera. But, by the end of Blood of Olympus, he's come to realize that while some people may be a little scared and even freaked out by him, nobody actually hates him. He can have friends. He can even have a boyfriend. And that's exactly what he gets.
Will Solace doesn't get nearly as much character development. He just kind of pops up and calls Nico out on all of his shit, and then enables bad behavior and rule-breaking when they start dating. So if there was one thing I'd change about this relationship, it'd be more insight into Will's frame of mind.
Edward & Winry (Fullmetal Alchemist)
(Please note: I'm going off of the manga and the anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Not the anime that's just Fullmetal Alchemist. Yes, they are very different.)
This one is kind of weird. Primarily because, while both characters admit to themselves that they have a crush on the other, they never get to the point where they're actually dating before the end of the story. But while we're not entirely sure how they would act in a romantic relationship with each other, we still get a pretty good idea. Edward would continue to be an obnoxious (short) badass, while Winry would call out his obnoxiousness, fix his metal limb when he breaks it, and also be badass.
One of my favorite moments between these two is during Winry's breakdown, when she meets Scar and realizes he was the one who killed her parents. Edward has to stop her from trying to kill him, largely because he knows that she'd never forgive herself for it, even if that execution is arguably well-earned. It's a moment that shows that these two have each other's backs and bring out the best in each other.
Tormund & Brienne (Game of Thrones)
Fun fact: the show's writers never intended for Tormund or Brienne to be interested in each other at all. This was purely the actors and how they interacted with each other without any dialogue in season six. The writers saw that and thought, "Welp, guess this is going to be a thing," and wrote it into season seven (and hopefully season eight!).
Tormund is obviously head-over-heels in love with Brienne. She, on the other hand, does not seem to return his affections at all. But I'm really hoping she'll change her mind, and here's why: Brienne has been scorned all her life because she's not beautiful, she's good with weapons, and she doesn't take anyone's shit. She's grown up in a society that idealizes the women who are pretty, demure, obedient, et cetera. Worse, she's learned that any time a man does show interest in her, he's just making fun of her, or (in the case of the books) trying to win a bet.
Tormund, on the other hand, did not grow up in that society. In wildling culture (for the most part), the women are encouraged to be big, strong fighters just like the men. No wonder Tormund fell in love at first sight: Brienne is a powerfully-built, amazing fighter who's smart. That is the ideal wildling bride. And hopefully, Brienne will realize that all of the aspects that make southern men hate her are exactly what draws Tormund to her and return his affections.
Aang & Katara (Avatar: the Last Airbender)
I am not going to get into the Zutara debate. We're sticking with canon here. (And frankly, I prefer Katara and Zuko as really good friends. He need more friends than girlfriends.)
All of ATLA's relationships (all of ATLA's everything) are really great: Suki and Sokka, Sokka and Yue, Zuko and Mai...but the one that the writers spent the most time on is, of course, Aang and Katara.
For a kids' show (well, "kids' show," just like Pixar is "kids' movies"), their relationship moves at glacial speed, even though it's obvious that Aang's harbored a crush on Katara since the first episode. And while Katara loves him as a friend, she seems pretty oblivious to the romantic side and doesn't seem to reciprocate for a long time. We get a little "did they kiss, they probably kissed" moment in season two, but they don't have a first actual kiss until the Day of Black Sun in season three. And how does Katara react?
She slaps the "pause" button like a whack-a-mole because they're in the middle of a war and she doesn't have time for this shit, a decision that Aang--after some minor protest--respects. He doesn't persistently nag her, or keep flirting with her, or spite-date someone else in the hopes that she'll get jealous. He gives her space to work things out, and doesn't make another move until she instigates.
Also, in the post-series comics, they call each other sweetie. And my parents call each other sweetie. It's just really cute.
Bob & Helen Parr (The Incredibles)
This relationship is so strong it can handle all of Bob's issues in two consecutive movies. First his overwhelming desire to relive the glory days of his superhero youth, and second his jealousy at Helen being able to do that before him. There's obviously a lot of character development that happens with him--and he would've gotten a divorce at the end of the first movie if there wasn't--but if their relationship and commitment to each other had been any weaker than it was, then they wouldn't have lasted.
Also, these movies get huge props for having the main romantic subplot center around a married couple that have been together for fifteen years. Most romances happen when the two characters are pining for each other and trying to start a relationship, or at the height of "maximum drama" (someone cheated, they just broke up, et cetera). While their relationship has to weather some storms, the relationship itself is not the storm, if that makes sense. There's the minor blip where Helen thinks Bob is cheating on her with Mirage, but for the most part, all the problems they face in The Incredibles and The Incredibles 2 stem from Bob's personal issues and bad guys trying to destroy the world. Which is a good thing, because everyone knows that beating up the villain of the week is great couples' therapy.
What's the best romantic subplot you've ever seen/read in a sci-fi/fantasy/superhero story? Let me know in the comments so I can check it out!
I should give a quick update before I let Shannon from Read & Reels take over. A couple of weeks ago I got a second job working at Panera Bread as a delivery woman (well, technically it's my third job; my full-time position is PCA/job coach for people with disabilities, writing is my second job, and now this). At the same time, a bunch of other stuff happened this month:
In the middle of all of this, I realized yesterday, Shit! I need to blog this week, too!
Guest post to the rescue!
Unlike me, Shannon O. apparently has her life way more in order, and managed to not only finish reading a book, but write a review for it, too. Please enjoy while I go out and buy a much-needed planner.
"Slithers" by W. W. Mortensen: Book Review
Thank you so much for having me on your blog! It’s so awesome! Seriously, everyone needs to be reading it!
Today I thought I’d share a review of a Sci-Fi Horror I read recently, called Slithers by W.W. Mortensen!
There are so many things to like about Slither! Perfect setting, a tense atmosphere, wrought with fear, great writing, and good pacing. See what I mean, LOTS of things to like. That said, the ending is so huge and complex, I feel the author should have dedicated more time to explaining it better. I mean, I get the gist, but with such existential ideas to contemplate, readers would benefit from a more thorough conclusion.
This is the first book by Mortensen that I've read, and this one didn't put me off. On the contrary, I'm quite intrigued by his other titles, especially Eight. He's clearly very talented and based on the mood he creates in this story alone, I'm more than keen to read more.
Some other things worth mentioning: I loved all the creepy crawlies in this story. They very much reminded me of King's creatures in The Mist, which is high praise because that is one of my favourite short stories, and the gory scenes were also brilliant! I just loved how vivid and descriptive they were, so well done sir. Ugh... I'm shuddering just thinking about some of them.
Ultimately, I think the theme is about the universal question "What if?", and Slithers is an original, and entertaining approach to answering it. It may not be for everyone but many of you will really enjoy it!
Rating... B or 3.75 Gooey Truck Drivers out of 5!
Thanks again for letting me share on DZA today, it warms my heart to see so many amazing blogs like yours dedicated to Horror and Science Fiction!
Shannon O. (a.k.a. Shanannigans)
Blogger & Publicist
Yay, Shannon! I am definitely adding this to my reading list.
Be sure to visit her blog Reads & Reels. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
My Favorite SFF Books Read in 2018
Christmas was, of course, last week. If any of you readers are like me, you asked for--and hopefully received!--a lot of books for the holiday this year. Never mind that I'm a Buddhist and don't believe in God or their controversial demigods, I will take any excuse to beg for books. And spend time on family, I guess.
For me personally, 2019 seems to the be the year that I should really consider getting an extra bookshelf rather than just piling all the books in my room. But before we move forward, I thought it would be fun to look back on the best sci-fi and fantasy books I personally read and reviewed in 2018.
Note: these are in no particular order. Don't ask me to choose my singular favorite or to even vaguely list them. That'd be like torture.
Another note: these are all books that I read in 2018. While some of them did come out this year, some are a few years older. But they're included in this list because it's my blog and therefore follows my rules of time, space, and physics. Enjoy!
Throne of Glass Series
The Adventure Zone Graphic Novel
By Fire Above
Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze
The Nemesis series
What were your favorite books from this year? Let me know in the comments so I can add them to my reading list!
Margaret Fortune: Author of the Spectre War Series
Today we’ll be having an interview with one of my favorite sci-fi authors: Margaret Fortune. I have reviewed both of her books Nova and Archangel. Margaret, thank you so much for taking the time to do this!
Is your recent book part of a series? If so, can you tell us a bit about where the story is heading?
I’m the author of two books, Nova and Archangel, which are both part of a series called The Spectre War. Set in the distant future, in a time when humans have spread out and settled throughout the universe on myriad planets, colonies, and space stations, the series tells the ongoing story of an interstellar war from five different perspectives. At first the war seems fairly straightforward, but we soon learn that it’s anything but what it seems.
The series will be comprised of five books, each featuring a different protagonist—Lia, a genetically engineered human bomb (Nova); Michael, a soldier testing weapons prototypes (Archangel); Teal, a student turned resistance leader; Storm, a medical test subject; and Shar, a powerful psychic on the run. Though each protagonist has their own story to tell, every character also carries a piece of a much larger puzzle—the truth behind the war itself. Only when they finally combine their individual pieces will the characters understand the true nature of the enemy and their purpose behind the war. However, once they learn the truth, will it be enough to defeat the enemy and win this war once and for all . . . or will the truth only doom them—along with the rest of humanity—for all time?
The answers will come in books three, four, and five!
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise? Why or why not?
I’ve written a lot of characters, each with their own abilities, moral standards, and emotional baggage, but no, I’ve never written one I simply despise.
Part of writing authentic, three-dimensional characters is recognizing that people are never “all good” or “all bad.” As such, it’s important to be able to both empathize with and criticize your characters in turn. If you can criticize a character but never empathize with them, they’re probably not so much a person as a one-dimensional villain, a cardboard cutout there to serve the plot and the main character’s story arc.
On the flip side, if you can empathize with a character but never criticize them, they’re probably too perfect to be real. Even the best people fail at times. They make mistakes, they act selfishly, they do things they secretly know aren’t right. They do wrong things for the right reasons, and right things for the wrong reasons. It’s part of being human. At times, I’m writing and I want nothing more than to give my character a big hug and tell them it will all turn out okay in the end. And then other times I’m writing, and I just shake my head in despair at them, and say, “Oh, this is not a good moment for you.” It goes both ways.
What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?
Things I like the best: Well-developed characters who are flawed but still relatable; clever plot arcs that go in unexpected directions; unique and interesting settings so vivid you feel like you’re there; strong female characters who don’t wait for rescue but use their brains, initiative, and leadership skills to solve their problems; strong male characters who know when to use their hearts instead of their fists, and are all the stronger for it; well-crafted prose that sets a mood or atmosphere; and stories that have me coming back and thinking about them long after I’ve finished the book.
Things I like the least: Wasted potential. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing a great concept ruined by poor execution or lack of good direction. Stories mired in tropes, clichés, and stereotypes. One-dimensional characters who are nothing more than vehicles for the plot or concept rather than people. Heroes that are too perfect to be believed, and villains that are so evil they’re cartoonish. Bad or amateur writing, filled with lots of obvious redundancies or errors that could have been easily fixed…but weren’t.
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music, or something else?
During the week, I write in the evenings after work. On the weekends, it varies, mainly depending on how many chores/errands I have to do and how much I procrastinate.
Must haves? Well, it helps if I have my laptop! I rarely write by hand. Otherwise, not really. All I need is my brain, my laptop, and a place to sit.
Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?
The short answer is no, my characters don’t control me. All of my characters are figments of my imagination cooked up in my brain, and thus everything on the page is a direct result of what I, as an author, choose to do. That said, as I continue to write, I’ll often discover hidden dimensions in my characters that I wasn’t consciously aware of before, dimensions which may shape what direction the book takes. So while my characters don’t “control me,” the book will evolve and change during the writing process as my characters continue to become more fleshed out and realized in my mind.
What kind of impact do you want your books to have on readers?
I want my readers to laugh, to cry, to think, to be inspired, to turn the pages like there’s no tomorrow. I want them to cringe when they see a character they love about to make a terrible mistake, to grind their teeth when that character is mistreated, and to feel elated when they’re triumphant. I want people to stay up past their bedtimes, to miss their subway stops, and be late to their parties because they have to find out how it all ends. And when the end finally comes, I want them to sit on the edge of their seats and bite their knuckles and say, “OMG!” In short, I want people to enjoy my books, because that’s what reading is all about: having fun. So to all the readers out there, whether you’re reading my books or someone else’s—Happy Reading!
What, in your opinion, is the worst mistake an author can make?
I think there’s a rather unfortunate misconception about mistakes, this idea that mistakes are terrible things that must be avoided at all costs. In reality, making mistakes is the way we learn, we grow, and we improve as writers—and people. So often I see writers so terrified of making “rookie mistakes” that they put blanket bans on stuff--Don’t do this, don’t do that. Don’t use this at all. The problem with banning anything and everything you might mess up is that instead of learning how to do something right, you end up learning to do nothing at all. Instead of adding to your options, you take them away. Mistakes can be painful, but by allowing ourselves to make them, we give ourselves a chance to learn something new and ultimately come out stronger on the other side.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Be honest with yourself. Whether you’re an amateur writer trying to get an agent, a newly agented writer trying to get your first book deal, or a published author whose books haven’t done so well, the fact is that the publishing industry is tough. It’s not easy, it’s not fair, and your relative success or failure in the industry is often largely influenced by factors beyond your control. And succeeding in the industry—or even getting into the industry at all—often requires you to make compromises between what the market wants and what you want.
So it’s important to be realistic about what the market demands and honest with yourself about what your writing/career goals are, which goals are most important to you, and what you’re willing to do—or not do—to achieve them.
If you could go to any fictional world, where would you go? Why?
My own, of course! There’s nothing I’d love more than to see my worlds come to life around me. I want to stroll the halls of New Sol Space Station, watch the shifting pastel mists through the crystalline walls of R&D, and hike through the alien Rainforests of Iolanthe with purple blossoms in my hair and cloudvines around my ankles.
Of course, I’d prefer to do all that some time when the enemy isn’t around…
If you could have one magical ability/superpower, what would it be? How would you use it?
Teleportation. Think of all the amazing places you could go and things you could do. Feel like Italian for dinner? Why not go out to eat tonight—in Rome! Feel like hitting the beach but it’s 30 below and you’re buried with snow? Teleport to Hawaii for a Saturday afternoon! No plane fares, no long car trips—one snap of your fingers, and you’re there. (Plus, if I could teleport to work, I could get up a whole 25 minutes later in the morning!)
What creature is better: dragons, zombies, or aliens?
Aliens, definitely! (Not that, as a sci-fi writer, I’m biased, or anything!) Zombies are rather limited—they just moan and eat brains. Dragons are pretty to look at, but it’s impossible to get fire insurance when they’re around…and they have a tendency to eat your pets. But aliens… aliens have got everything! They’re good and they’re evil, they’re sentient and non-sentient, they come in all shapes and sizes and colors, from far-off planets and distant galaxies, each with their own amazing cultures, backgrounds, and abilities. When it comes to the sheer possibilities, you can’t beat a good alien!
Margaret Fortune wrote her first story at the age of six and has been writing ever since. She is the author of The Spectre War series, which includes the books Nova and Archangel. She lives in Wisconsin. (Even though all the cool kids live in Minnesota. It's okay. We love her, anyway.)
You can find her on...
Monday Movie! A Wrinkle in Time
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!